MARIAN LANSKY

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Month: August 2019

Can we learn without punishment?

Do you punish yourself? I punish myself, or I have in the past. But why I do it has only recently begun to become clear.

Here’s an example of how I punish myself: A friend gets the flu and I don’t feel that I have been properly sympathetic or caring enough, or I’ve caught myself thinking about how I haven’t been sick for at least a year and have felt proud of that fact. This is when the punishing aspect begins. Somehow I don’t trust that I am ever going to learn to be kind enough or caring enough if I don’t force myself to remember what it’s like to be sick, and so, I get sick. It’s a predictable cycle.

The same thing happens when a friend has a mechanical problem of some sort and I judge myself as having been inadequately sympathetic. I’ll punish myself by manifesting a similar problem in my own life.

I do the same thing if I find myself celebrating my good fortune without (here comes the judge again) adequately sharing it. Guilty on all counts and some loss must be exacted so I can remember what it’s like to experience lack to some degree.

My knee-jerk response to this realization of self-punishment is to turn around and look at my parents in a desire to pass the blame along, but I’ve decided to take full responsibility for this one. It doesn’t matter where it came from, it’s mine at this point, and I’m owning it. Quicker and more efficient to do that anyway.

Most of us, when these types of things happen, would use the phrase, “It’s as though I am being punished.” We externalize the authority to God, to the universe, to some external law of cause and effect, to the idea of karma. 

But the truth is that it’s our decision. We, as humans, are the ones who use punishment as a learning device. Punishment is not a divine attribute.

I’ve been watching old seasons of Project Runway, which is a great example of how this works in our minds. It’s a show in which aspiring designers compete for a chance to show their collections at NY Fashion Week, by running a gauntlet of difficult design challenges under increasing pressure over a period of weeks. 

The editing will always pick out designers who are being cruel or bossy or backstabbing, or who are winning challenges but without enough humility, and set the audience against them so that we can rejoice when they are eventually punished with loss. It’s a universal human pattern.

However, I’ve become convinced that we can’t manifest this pattern unless we have an unconscious belief in our own inherent guilt, and, in fact, if we are identifying with the body, believing that we are living in an actual, physical, finite universe. When we believe we are the body, compassion becomes a difficult proposition.

The body-mind, the ego, the human mind, is a mind that has limited information, and believes in linear time and the laws of cause and effect. It labels everything, judges everything on a dichotomous scale, as either good or bad. The goal of the human mind, the ego, is to keep the dream real, keep the illusion, or as Seth calls it, the camouflage, in place. Keep the “this is all there is-ness” of it going.

The human mind believes that the solution to almost everything, is to resist it. This is how it solidifies the illusion of the separate self—by pushing against what seems to be outside of it.

And when it feels itself as a disconnected kind of marooned creature in this desert island we call life, it assumes that it is being punished because it has done something wrong. Hence, the idea of original sin, as opposed to the idea of fundamental goodness.

We are so primitive. We seek to appease our God by punishing ourselves before we can be punished.

I’ve been a real sucker for this routine in my life. But I’m on to it now, at least to some extent. It’s a work in progress. I can hear and identify the voice of the punishing guilt-monger when it arises and see it for what it is—pure bullshit. 

For example, I don’t go out much or socialize much, but on the occasions when I do, say, have dinner with a group, or go to some sort of social gathering, I will almost always awaken at 2 a.m. replaying the evening while an inner critic berates me for something I said. It will accuse me of having hurt someone, or having said something offensive, or having misrepresented something. (I often think that when I die I won’t need a life review because my entire life is one huge incessant life-review, and not in a good way.)

But now I am beginning to be able to see this as the voice-for-guilt. The voice-for-guilt wants my energy. It wants to create fear and preoccupation and convince me that the dream is real and that I am a sinner, on one level or another. It doesn’t want me to forgive myself for being a well-meaning but clumsy, inept human.

And yet, this is what we are—well-meaning but clumsy, inept humans. Can we learn without punishment? Can we forgive ourselves? In this, as in so many things, I love the Kabbalah idea that there are divine gifts, like this kind of love and forgiveness, that we cannot accept for ourselves. But we can do it because God wants us to.

As Abraham-Hicks says: You cannot get sick enough to help sick people get better. You cannot get poor enough to help poor people thrive. It is only in your thriving that you have anything to offer anyone. If you’re wanting to be of an advantage to others, be as tapped in, tuned in, turned on as you can possibly be.

Healing my relationship with my mother

This is a happy story, but I’m afraid I have to give a little background, so bear with me. 

My relationship with my mother was difficult. She was a master of passive aggression and guilt-mongering—a woman full of fears and anxieties that she freely radiated into the atmosphere around her. I spent most of my life struggling to not be like her. 

We loved each other deeply but the love was buried in a quicksand bog of knee-jerk reactions and triggering. For most of my adult years I could not feel the love. I knew it was there, somewhere, but it would only come to consciousness in isolated moments of surprise, suddenly taken unawares like a duck flushed by a hunter. Like when I’d first see her after a separation and experience the shocking recognition of how old and frail she looked. Or when she was visiting me and slipped in my kitchen, sitting down hard, and couldn’t get up—the love was overwhelming as I rushed to help her. Within a few minutes, or usually as soon as she began to speak, the bog would close over and all affection would be lost to fending off the onslaught of her neurotic personality.

My husband once said that after talking with my mother he sometimes felt like he needed a shower. He was exquisitely gracious with her, but nothing made much difference. Every time I went to visit her, in her last years, I’d promise myself that I would be kind and loving, that I would overlook what she said or did, and I would not get triggered. And every time I’d fail within minutes.

I was alone with her in the hospital the night she died, and I had a crazy fear that her demons, the ones she’d hosted forever, would come streaming out of her lifeless body, looking for a new haunt. I was afraid they would choose me. 

For two years after her death, I experienced vertigo—the world kept spinning. I felt as though so much of my energy had gone into pushing against my mother, that when she died the force of that resistance, no longer having anything to push against, unhinged my world and sent it spiraling through space. 

I couldn’t grieve. I felt only a strange combination of relief and anxiety. A feeling that even though she was dead, the relationship wasn’t over. I wanted it to be over.

We didn’t have a funeral. I had kept her ashes, and after that two years of vertigo, decided that maybe it was time to say a proper goodbye. We scattered some of her ashes in Lake Superior and my husband helped me bury the rest under a crab apple tree in our back yard. We dug a hole and I put in some photos and some of her small, personal possessions. We marked the grave with a stone and I began to cry.

The grief I finally experienced was as much for her life, her painful, sad life, and our messed-up relationship, as it was for her death. 

That was when the dreams began. In the first dream I recall, my mother’s closest friend handed me a doll—like a Barbie Doll. I was very happy to get this doll. I cradled it in my arms and felt such love for it. Then she told me that this doll was my mother. Somehow, this made sense. 

I could handle feeling the love if it was projected into a small inanimate plaything—something that couldn’t speak and couldn’t make the earth turn to quicksand beneath my feet.

As the dreams progressed, my mother became human and I was always her caretaker. Even though in dreams she was an old woman, I loved her as though I were her mother and she my beloved child. I felt an infinitely gentle and caring love for her. I held nothing back, was completely undivided. Every time she shows up in a dream I am thrilled, the way I’m thrilled when my son surprises me by unexpectedly showing up at my studio for a visit or a chat.

We don’t talk much. I’m usually helping her do something. She’s got a happy spirit in my dreams and the love I feel for her is simple and powerful. There is no hesitation in it. There are no blocks. And it’s always like the love of a mother for her child.

Am I, in some other lifetime, her mother? I don’t know! I don’t think it’s necessary to interpret these dreams. I feel as though our relationship is being healed. In a recent dream, she reverted to being a mother-figure and we had a disagreement of some sort. But we seemed to deal with it in a healthy way, as though we’d both learned how to disagree without letting our egos get in the mix.

I still don’t necessarily feel her love for me. That hasn’t come through strongly yet. Or I haven’t allowed it to come through, perhaps, because in life I’d lost confidence in her love. But I experience my love for her and that adds a recognizable constellation to my internal heavens. Something I can navigate by.

So, I didn’t know that this could happen—that a relationship could heal itself in this way, after one person dies. I also didn’t know that it was possible to have a truly demented relationship with someone here in human life, and for it to turn out to be, once all is said and done, so profoundly loving.

I don’t know what any of this means in terms of whether what I am experiencing in my dreams is actually “her.” Or maybe this is my inner self trying to restore balance, heal my emotions in relation to her in a gentle way. I don’t know what it is. But it’s been very effective.

The Proliferating Story

I’ve been looking at styles of preoccupation—the proliferating mind that seems to be the way in which we lose our lucidity here in this dream of life. I feel like it is the proliferating, runaway mind that makes the dream seem real and robs us of our power. 

Fear, in all of its styles and degrees, is the greatest creator of preoccupation I’ve found so far in my own mind. Fear—whether evidence-based or not—of change, loss, illness, suffering, uncertainty.

But I’d have to say that a great big fat second place, at least in my own mind, goes to guilt.

For example, my son and his partner, who is pregnant with their first baby, came over for supper last night. We had a lovely dinner and my son requested leftovers to take home, which I was thrilled to give him, but I also knew that this particular dish is a favorite of my husband’s so I limited the amount of leftovers I shared with them. I had also purchased sorbet for his lovely partner for dessert because she’s lactose intolerant and we were having fruit and ice cream.

I’d intended to give her the sorbet when they left because it turned out that it was her favorite flavor.

I failed in my intentions here in two ways. I put some (but not much) of the leftovers in a container for my son, forgetting that I had already set aside quite a bit for my husband. And I forgot to give her the sorbet when they left.

This morning I discovered not only the sorbet but the forgotten stash of leftovers that I could have sent with them.

Sounds like nothing much, right? But I was hurled into a maelstrom of guilt. How could I keep food aside rather than sending it with my child (who is obviously not a child and quite capable of feeding himself). How could I forget to give a promised gift to a pregnant mother? How could I FORGET TO SHARE? Am I losing my mind, my memory? What kind of a mother am I?

This was quite a shocking attack from the inner critic, but what made it memorable this time is that I had just enough awareness to say, “Hey, wait a minute. What’s going on here?”

It’s clear enough that somehow I’d accepted a belief concerning food and mothers and children—something like “All food must go to the children!” And yes, it was obvious that my well-nourished son and his partner would not starve without the leftovers and sorbet. But I began to see that the content of the attack was almost an excuse. It had nothing to do with anything actually happening in the present moment.

It was a way to create guilt-as-preoccupation. What I’ve begun to see is that the ego creates an illusion in thought, a story, and then tries to get you to solidify it by first, believing it, and then, letting it drive a series of mental and physical actions that are used to make the story seem real. It tries to create a feedback loop.

The ego is the driving force that makes this reality seem real. And it does this through leading us to become preoccupied with aspects of the game/dream/matrix, thereby losing our awareness and lucidity and forgetting the true nature of our identity as the creator of the whole shebang.

One way to maintain lucidity in a nighttime lucid dream is to remember to avoid getting hung up staring at a detail. To remember to keep your vision scanning, your mind fresh and aware of the fact that you are dreaming, and not become hypnotized by, or preoccupied with, any of the dream details to the extent that you lose your lucidity and fall back into dreaming.

One of the best ways I have found to do this in the waking dream that is this human life, is to be aware at all times of how my thoughts feel. Guilt thoughts feel as compellingly awful as fear thoughts. And they are sticky in a similar way, making it difficult to wrest your awareness out of the feedback loop long enough to see the ego behind the curtain, directing the show.

I don’t necessarily mean to create an idea of ego-as-villain. After all, it’s just doing the job it learned when we were children. What I want to do is to illustrate the fact that it can be tricky to stay awake, because the forces of preoccupation have so much momentum. And one of the best ways to awaken to the fact that you’ve fallen asleep and succumbed, is to get super-familiar with the feeling of being swept up in a proliferating story that feels bad.

I’m saying that to me, the content of the story is irrelevant, because when you boil it down to its essence, it’s all about fear, guilt and the preoccupation that arises simultaneously with them and causes us to go to sleep and lose our inner peace.

Here’s a theory—I almost think it’s the ego’s job to make the dream real—to challenge us in this way to remember ourselves. It is the ego that is the stage master, the costume designer, the makeup artist, the script writer. Maintaining the illusion is its job. And maybe it’s our job, as actors, to remember why we decided to be in this play, and to, finally, take control of the script.

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